Day at the Lake headliner Dustin Lynch performed songs off his last and upcoming albums Sunday night at the Kosciusko County fairgrounds. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union
Day at the Lake headliner Dustin Lynch performed songs off his last and upcoming albums Sunday night at the Kosciusko County fairgrounds. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union
Samantha Watlington was 23 months old in 1997 when she was diagnosed with leukemia.
Her doctor sent her and her 23-year-old mother to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., right away. She had to live at the hospital for a while, and then had treatment every week for the next 2-1/2 years. Her treatment included the most intensive chemotherapy she could get.
She’s been in remission since 1999, and a few years ago doctors said she was cured, but St. Jude still checks on her.
Sunday evening, Watlington, now of Fishers, spoke about her St. Jude story to the thousands of people at the seventh annual Day at the Lake country concert at the Kosciusko County Fairgrounds. All proceeds of Day at the Lake benefit St. Jude.
The event was co-founded by Mike Loher and Willie 103.5’s Jay Michaels in 2008.
Loher said they won’t have any totals for funds raised for a little while, but preliminary stats show it was a “huge success.”
“Originally, the idea was to bring in more entertainment to Warsaw,” said Loher. “Then we tied in the St. Jude benefit. Our goal all along was to have the event paid for by sponsors before it happens so all the proceeds go to St. Jude.”
He said the benefit is the only one structured like that in the nation, where the event is paid for before it happens so all money raised actually goes to the charity.
One other reason the concert and St. Jude fundraiser were started, Michaels added, was because his brother was a St. Jude patient in 1975. If it wasn’t for St. Jude, Michaels’ brother may not be here today.
Over the years a motorcycle ride and 5K were added to the event. The ride has about 175 to 200 participants.
Michaels said more country music artists are added to the concert’s roster every year.
“The artists have gotten bigger over the years. It used to be one or two, now it’s four. It’s more of a festival atmosphere,” he said.
Michaels said people come from Illinois and Michigan for the concert. One year people from California traveled to Warsaw for the concert.
Courtney Miles, of Anchor, Ill., and Tiera Bolt, of Romeoville, Ill., arrived at the fairgrounds at 10:30 a.m. Sunday to see headliner Dustin Lynch perform at about 8:30 p.m. They were first in line and even packed a picnic for their wait.
“We’re not only trying to figure out how to get better, but who to get next year,” Michaels said. “The more money we get (from sponsors), the bigger artists we get. This is about saving kids’ lives. It’s pretty simple. Come out, have a great time. Possibly save a child’s life. One child’s life saved in Memphis is thousands saved around the world.”
Loher said they get a lot of calls from people who want to help. “We’ve got more volunteers than work,” he said, which is a good problem to have.
“We’ve been blessed,” Michaels agreed.
He estimated they have over 100 volunteers and committee members.
As for a fundraising goal, he said it was just to beat last year’s total. “We want to raise as much money as possible. Every year it does better and better for us,” Michaels said.
The food vendors donate money back to St. Jude, Michaels said.
“Every penny from ticket sales goes to St. Jude. That’s what it’s all about. No kid should have to go through what they go through,” he said.
Sponsors are key to the event. “If it wasn’t for the sponsors, this event wouldn’t happen,” Loher said. “The unique things about the event is we don’t have to use ticket sales to pay for the event.”
Financial sponsors for the 2014 event included DuPont Wealth Management, Symmetry Medical, Warsaw Family Eyecare, Warsaw Buick GMC & Warsaw Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram,, OrthoPediatrics, Kozon Plumbing & Heating, Paragon Medical, Louis Dreyfus, Polk Auction, Bishop Farms, Brandt’s Harley Davidson, The Revolving Closet, Nelson Beverage/Bud Light, Osborn Manufacturing, Kosciusko County Community Fair Board, ProFleet, Advanced Disposal, Mike Long Family Farms, Maverick Promotions, Wagon Wheel Theatre and Times-Union.
Michaels said there were another 30 to 40 businesses that helped in other ways like in-kind contributions. Throughout the event, the sponsors were recognized on stage and on the Monster local billboard.
The artists on the concert bill this year included Hubie Ashcroft & The Drive, John King, Trick Pony and Lynch.
Michaels said Lynch just came off a tour with Keith Urban. He has a top 10 song and does a lot of charity work for St. Jude, so he was a natural fit for the concert.
During his set, Lynch played “She Cranks My Tractor” off his first album, and some new music off his forthcoming album “Where It’s At,” which will be released Sept. 9. He also covered Garth Brooks and Def Leppard.
Trick Pony reunited and they’re very popular in Warsaw. They’ve had a few sold-out shows at the Wagon Wheel Theatre over the years, Michaels said.
King has a hit song currently on the radio called “Tonight Tonight,” which he performed. The Georgia boy was visiting Indiana for the first time.
Planning for the 2015 event started during Sunday’s event as organizers took notes on what could be improved for next year, Loher said. He said people just need to come out to the event, which has free kids’ activities so families can make a day of it.
“The concert is really good, affordable entertainment. Tickets are just $15, with all the money going to the cause. Your $15 could be the $15 that saves a child’s life,” Michaels said.
St. Jude shares all its research with other hospitals like Riley Hospital for Children so by helping St. Jude, Michaels said they are also helping others.
It cost $2 million a day to run St. Jude, including the hospital, patient care, lodging and transportation. Families are never billed, which is a relief for them, he said. “If a parent pulls out their insurance card, they’ll tell you to put it away,” Michaels said.
He also noted that country radio has raised over $500 million in 25 years for St. Jude.
Willie 103.5 will present Coyote’s 5K for St. Jude kids Saturday at the faigrounds. The cost is $10 per person until Friday, and $15 the day of the 5K. For more information, visit the radio station’s website at